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Kean University

NSF Grant Sparks Cross-Disciplinary Data Analytics and Visualization Projects in Urban Research at Kean

City buildings at night

The study of building and broadening data analytics and visualization skills in urban research received a $1 million boost from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the form of a three-year grant to an interdisciplinary team of Kean University faculty.

Awarded in September, the NSF Build and Broaden grant will give faculty and students opportunities and skills to critically engage with data through research projects, workshops and a new academic minor in Social Science Interdisciplinary Data Analytics and Visualization in Urban Research. The work is anchored in the principles of data literacy, the democratization of data knowledge and cross-disciplinary collaborative research.

“We are part of a global community,” said lead researcher Julia Nevárez, Ph.D., professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts at Kean. “We can all relate to each other at a global scale. This prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation will help support faculty within their disciplines to establish cross-disciplinary collaborations, which are essential to study the complexity of the increasingly urban world we live in.”

New Jersey’s first designated urban research university, Kean is leading the way to study data and comprehensively take in the whole picture of urban communities – the physical context of cities and suburbs, as well as the social, cultural, technological and economic relationships that shape contemporary urban society in a data-driven world. 

Kean Professor Julia Nevarez
Kean Professor Julia Nevárez

The grant funds three cohorts of faculty fellows pursuing urban research using data analytics and visualization. The initial three projects focus on predicting and preventing green climate gentrification; measuring the economic impact of the gig economy; and assessing the demographics and health vulnerabilities of urban communities.

The research team on the NSF grant includes, along with principal investigator Nevárez, Kean faculty co-investigators: Elizabeth Hyde, Ph.D., professor, Department of History and acting associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts; and Derrick Swinton, Ph.D., associate dean for research, Hennings College of Mathematics, Science, and Technology. Hyde will lead development of the new academic minor, and develop and institute the faculty fellows program. Swinton will ensure administrative support, review assessments, and create plans to institutionalize elements of the project. 

“The Kean Build and Broaden project is well-aligned with the strategic goals of the university, particularly its goals to achieve R2 high research activity status,” Swinton said. “The project will play a pivotal role in advancing the university's endeavors by promoting robust collaborations among faculty from diverse academic disciplines. Additionally, the project will establish a solid foundation for the growth and development of cross-disciplinary student training, equipping students with the essential skills required for success in a workforce that demands competencies beyond those attainable through conventional, isolated academic experiences.”  

The grant, intended for minority-serving institutions, will open opportunities for undergraduate research among Kean’s diverse students in social sciences, STEM and other disciplines.  

“Kean is one of the most diverse universities in the United States,” Nevárez said. “This project serves our student body and empowers our increasingly diverse faculty to engage in the kind of transformative research needed to build resilient urban communities.”

In coming years, Nevárez said she expects to see conversations emerging about how to critically engage with data, reaching beyond Kean through conferences, publications and new proposals supported by the grant. "As part of the Build and Broaden NSF Program, this initial step will enhance data literacy, democratize data knowledge, and expand cross-disciplinary urban research," she said.